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posted 03.12.2014 at 11.15 a.m. by Jac Coyne

Morning Jac: Saints Renews Ithaca Rivalry

They were both members of the now-defunct Upstate Collegiate Athletic Association (UCAA), but since that time, the meetings between St. Lawrence and Ithaca have become less frequent. St. Lawrence joined the Liberty League, which was a direct offspring of the UCAA, while Ithaca hopped in with the Empire 8, meaning every game would be of the non-conference variety.

There have been occasional confabs, like the contest in 2011 that resulted in a 9-5 victory for the Saints, but not nearly enough from SLU head coach Mike Mahoney's perspective.

"I have a ton of respect for Jeff Long and his program and we'd love to play them on a regular basis, but sometimes it's just the timing of our schedules don't work out," Mahoney said, standing outside his sun-drenched Florida hotel prior to Wednesday night's meeting with the Bombers at the University of Tampa. "We were happy to make it happen this year."

The Saints are happy about a lot of things so far this spring, especially in light of the atrocious weather in Canton, N.Y. It started with a win over Babson in the season-opener and then followed with a 10-9 upset of Nazareth last Saturday. The latter of which was an unlikely event, and not just because the Flyers were ranked.

"Our first outdoor practice was the Friday night down in Rochester before our Nazareth game," Mahoney said. "We had two scrimmages, so we had been outside twice in a scrimmage situation. We bused down and practiced there and I've never seen a team more excited to practice than before that game. Just to be outside. To get the Babson win early was nice, and then to get out of Nazareth with a 'W' was a great day."

St. Lawrence is doing things the way they usually do under Mahoney, and that starts with a stingy defense. It's somewhat surprising that the Saints have been as cohesive this early because they had to replace their defensive midfield as well as break in a new goalie. The positions have been filled quickly, notably by junior Nick Ford (6.27 GAA; 65.7 sv%), and helped by veteran close defenders like senior Sam Marvin.

"They tested him," said Mahoney of Ford's 12-save performance against Naz. "They fired a ton of shots at him and he made some critical saves during the game."

Equally impressive is the emergence of junior Tommy Hovey as a sniper. After playing just eight total games in his first two years, Hovey has four goals in each of his first two contests as a starter, including the game-winner against the Flyers. At only 5-foot-8 and 150 pounds, Hovey doesn't have the size of the prototypical finisher, but he's grown into the role.

"He has always had terrific stick skills and done a nice job finishing, but physically he's now ready for the wear and tear of college lacrosse," Mahoney said. "He's a very intelligent player. Even as the preseason moved along, his offensive counterparts became more confident in his ability to catch the ball in tight situations and finish. Obviously he's off to a great start and his confidence has continued to improve."

Despite the strong start and the No. 18 ranking this week, Mahoney knows the Saints have an uphill climb against No. 14 Ithaca. The coach rattles off the Bombers' top players – Manilla, Slawta, Long, Sidnam – like he's reading them out of a book, and he understands this game is just as important to Ithaca.

And that's just fine, even if they only meet once every three years or so.

"We want to play those types of teams at this time of year," Mahoney said. "That's the only way we're going to continue to get better."